Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23 is one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a long time, so much so that I couldn’t even really get mad at it, I just sat there in disbelief looking at this adorable kindergarten level film noir huff and puff and try to be edgy and dangerous. Maybe it’s the fact that Jim Carrey is in a serious role, or the script is just so hilariously scattered and overcooked or that Carrey plays a freaking dog catcher (do those even exist anymore?) but for whatever reason I just couldn’t take this thing remotely seriously. So the plot, best as I could jigsaw it together from the hack job of a script: Jim is a mild mannered animal wrangler who finds an ancient Nordic mask that when worn, turns the wearer into- gotcha, didn’t I? Okay for real this time: he *is* an animal wrangler but instead he finds a little self published memoir written by a disturbed big city cop named Fingerling (also Jim with spray on tribal tattoos). In this book the detective is plagued by the number 23, which seems to show up everywhere including, you guessed it, in the real world where it haunts animal wrangler Jim as well. His wife (Virginia Madsen) and kid (Logan Lerman) do their best to both play along and look on in concern as he lets a numeric equation take over his life. There’s a grab bag of subplots including a mysterious psychiatrist (an uncredited Bud Cort), Danny Huston as a colleague who does his best to help, a death row inmate (Mark Pellegrino), a secretive dead girl (Rhona Mitra) and, uh.. a mysterious dog that leads people to gravestones of importance. It all seems hastily thrown together, none of it works or makes any kind of sense let alone lands with any emotional impact or narrative synergy and the ending left me chuckling in bemusement, my lack of conviction in this film equaled only by that it has in itself, which apparently is none. The wannabe noir cutaways to the book about Fingerling are laughably try-hard (Carrey literally wistfully plays a saxophone and stares out an apartment bay-window) and wincingly faux kinky, the psychological character aspects involving the twist ending are so far flung I threw my arms up in surrender and honestly it all felt like several better films tossed into a magic bullet and puréed into an indistinguishable pulp. The only scene with any kind of real power is in a graveyard with this fog, who fascinated me; a priest (Ed Lauter, RIP) informs frenzied animal wrangler Jim that this is a spirit dog who watched over the souls of the dead by standing at their graves. This scene *actually* has conviction, atmosphere and emotional substance, and it gave me chills… but it’s untethered from the film as a whole and has no bearing on the context or overall plot! It’s just… a scene! out of the ether! The same goes for the film as a whole.. what does the dog have to do with the dead girl have to do with the shrink have to do with Jim’s knockoff tribal tattoos have to do with the number 23? Not much of anything, and what little does fit together or add up… just feels stupid.
Liam Neeson ruthlessly pursuing Pierce Brosnan across an unforgiving post civil war US landscape, from snowy peaks to vast plains to acrid deserts and all the midlands in between. David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls is a stunning, folklore inspired tale of revenge, burning guilt, wayward ambitions and the joyless act of the hunt, portrayed not as thrill here but more as grim duty.
Brosnan is Gideon, an ex General now on the run from Carver (Neeson), another high ranking soldier who harbours deep hatred and rage against him for reasons the film wisely keeps to its chest until the last few minutes. This allows us to form our own picture of each man that is cultivated by each passing deed, and the labels of bad and good, hero and villain need not apply, which is how stories should be told anyways. They both appear to be good men in some instances, and both hardened killers in others. The film starts off in the snowy northern mountains, moves below to hills, valleys and ranches, continues on to the river lands and finally winds up in a scorching desert where the final revelations are laid bare and each man must make a choice. Von Ancken gives this story an almost biblical tone, from the Dante-esque journey from one specific natural setting to the next to the appearance of several key characters that seem to have supernatural undercurrents including a lone First Nations man (Wes Studi) who mysteriously guards a watering hole to a strange medicine lady (Anjelica Huston) who appears in the desert as if a phantom.
Neeson and Brosnan are phenomenal here. Liam lets the sickness of revenge spill out in his behaviour, that of a man with tunnel vision and no hesitations on letting anyone in his way become collateral damage. Pierce is haunting as a man running from both his adversary and his past, scenes where he hides out in a farmhouse and interacts with a young boy are subtly heartbreaking when you finally see the big picture later on. He’s grizzled to hell too, and there’s nothing like watching him patch up a bullet wound on his own, frontier style. Von Ancken carefully chooses his cast with wonderful character actors and familiar faces like the awesome Michael Wincott as Neeson’s roughneck hired bounty hunter, Xander Berkeley, Ed Lauter, Kevin J. O’Connor, Angie Harmon, Jimmi Simpson, James Jordan and more. I’d like to think that this exists in the same western universe as Von Ancken’s AMC drama Hell On Wheels because Tom Noonan briefly shows up here as pretty much the same Minister character he went on to excellently portray in the show, which I thought was a nice touch. This is a mean, callous, relentlessly and graphically violent piece of filmmaking that throws nods to Eastwood films of the same ilk while subtly doing its own kind of mythic, folklore thing that thrums along under the main story arc for you to pick up on, if you’re tuned into it’s ever so slightly esoteric frequency. Great, underrated film.
Exterior, Miami Beach. A hardened mercenary (everyone’s favourite tough guy, William Forsythe) has just returned the kidnaped daughter of a businessman, and the guy says “I don’t even know what to call you guys.” Forsythe’s Simon replies “Just call us the Librarians… lets just say we return overdue books”, with a straighter face than David Caruso’s Horatio Cain on CSI, another ludicrous Miami tough guy. Anyways, that’s the kind of knowingly asinine B Movie Glory (trademarked at this point) that we have here, but it’s a good bit of fun, to quote a certain Tarantino character. Forsythe’s off the books squad deals in locating the victims of human trafficking, and bringing the pain to those who perpetrate it. He’s joined by Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco, martial arts star Daniel Bernhardt and former playboy bunny turned B movie maiden Erika Eleniak. Their next task: rescue the kidnaped daughter of a mysterious billionaire (Michael Parks Skypes in a cameo that contains more gravity than the rest of the film combined, not to mention more than it deserves) from the clutches of a slimy crime lord (Andrew Divoff in full villain mode). It’s routine and predictable, punctuated by off the wall one liners, porno lit sex scenes, low grade gunfight last and sloppy hand to hand combat. I still can’t get over that aforementioned snippet of dialogue though, it sums up what glorious little gems like this are all about, encapsulates the B action film and Forsythe delivers it with that knowing little smirk that’s says it all. Watch for familiar faces like Ed Lauter, Forsythe’s own daughter Rebecca, Christopher Atkins and more. Oh yeah, and Burt Reynolds shows up briefly as a shady character credited (he actually had his name removed from the roster, understandably) as ‘Irish’. His first and middle names could be ‘Not’ and ‘Actually’, because the brogue he uses here is worse than Tommy Lee Jones I’m Blown Away and Dennis Hopper in Ticker combined, it’s a perplexing, cringy cameo. Hilarious stuff.
Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in more of a disturbing way as opposed to a compliment. It’s a story that could have been given the straight n’ narrow Hollywood biopic treatment, and instead plays like the loudest, most disconcerting fever dream you’ve ever had, and you find yourself wondering how such a straightforward story can just seem so *odd*. A lurid meditation on greed and a balls-out cautionary tale for people who think that money can buy happiness, most of it focuses on Gene Hackman’s stubborn prospector Jack McCann, who after striking gold in a melodramatic Yukon set prologue, retires to his own Caribbean island to languish in riches. Life is anything but happy for him though, as his troublesome daughter (Theresa Russell) has brought along her scheming boyfriend (Rutger Hauer), who clashes with McCann right off the bat. Hauer is a no good schmooze with his hands in a bunch of dirty pies, Russell is headstrong and belligerent, and soon McCann becomes paranoid, angry, volatile and wrapped up in his own deluded mind. It also doesn’t help that a crime syndicate from Miami wants to build a casino on his island, an idea he abhors. They’re headed up by Joe Pesci and Mickey Rourke, two memorable faces who are ultimately eclipsed by the volcanically intense and overbearing performances from our three leads. This is an ugly, brutal picture of human beings at their utter nadir of social interaction and mental well being, a swirling maelstrom of malcontent that circles the toilet boil and plummets down the drain to a graphically violent conclusion from which there is no respite or glimmer of catharsis. I kind of get what Roeg was going for, but he’s so tonally off kilter and tries to hammer it home with such pulverizing, unnecessary force that we feel too shellshocked to get any sort of real message from the thing. The acting is quite impressive though, credit where credit is due. Hackman has never been more terrifying, Hauer is sleaze served a la flambé and Russell has a staggering courtroom monologue that should be in record books for most lines memorized in a single take, not to mention be up for acting awards all over the board. Bring a strong set of nerves to this one, and be prepared for little payoff after you sit through the depravity it has to offer.
I usually avoid B movies where the writer/director also stars in the lead role, as it’s almost always pitiable self indulgence a lá The Room. In the case of Scott Leet’s Out In Fifty though, there’s an exception to the rule. A violent, mean revenge story with no light at the end of the troubled tunnel, it’s a bizarre, sketchy little flick that benefits greatly from Mickey Rourke as one beast of a cop on the hunt for the convict (Leet) who accidentally killed his wife in the heat of a passionate affair. Remorseful and tormented, he just wants to quietly exist after he’s eventually paroled, but Rourke, still hard bitten over the incident, has other plans. That’s pretty much it, but the actors sell the dour tone nicely, especially Rourke, who is at his nastiest and most scarily volatile, with a seething, bleeding broken heart behind the coiled viper, hate filled exterior. Peter Greene is terrific as his former partner who does his best to reign the guy in, and there’s work from Christina Applegate, Johnny Whitworth, Ed Lauter and Balthazar Getty as a weirdo pimp/motel owner. Leet isn’t bad, especially in the writing department, and holds the thing together with reasonable triple threat talents, although he has scarcely been heard of since this one. Not bad, made better by Rourke and Greene’s presence, and worth it for any fan of the two heavyweights.